‘I left my partner and lost £80,000 to a fake Facebook romance’: Manchester mum’s warning over catfishing scam
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A government warning has been issued after scammers repeatedly used photos of a 'silver fox' defence minister to dupe women - including a mum who lost £80,000.
Authorities in Latvia say they are aware of more than 100 fake profiles misusing snaps of suave politician Artis Pabriks.
One con artist, posing as 'Murphy Townsend', swindled Sharon Bulmer, from Manchester, out of thousands after he sent her a Facebook message saying he was "lonely' in May 2020.
But, after over two years of saying he was a US soldier who needed money to leave Syria and visit her, she discovered that he was not a real person.
It was then discovered that the pictures he claimed were of him were actually of Mr Pabriks - the Minister of Defence.
The Latvian Defence Office said they have been "facing this situation for a long time" and have reported over 100 fake profiles using the minister's images.
‘I know I’ve been a fool but I was in love’
Sharon is still coming to terms with being conned.
The 51-year-old said: "He asked me to help him and I did, but over the time it's got me into huge debt and because I have fallen for this person.
"I just wanted to help him so much. I know I have been a fool but these are the things we do for love."
The person behind the account claimed to be a 56-year-old man from Washington DC, with a 17-year-old daughter called Helen.
'Murphy' told Sharon he was serving with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Base 29 in Raqqa, Syria.
But, when Sharon enquired with the US authorities, she was told there was no 'Murphy Townsend' on their records at all.
She said: “He always kept things close to his chest. He doesn’t like me asking questions.”
Sharon had ended her relationship with her partner of 29 years in order to "start a new life" with 'Murphy'.
She then forked out nearly £80,000 over the two-and-a-half year period for various hospital bills and plane tickets - and is now in £37,000 worth of debt.
Sharon, a team leader at a Covid site, sent 'Murphy' the cash in Bitcoin.
But not once did she video call him - as he'd told her he wasn't allowed to at his base.
The mum wishes to share her story to stop other people getting tricked the way she has been.
Sharon said: "I wanted to take my children on holiday, I was going to take them to New York last year, but because he was constantly hammering for money, I couldn't.
"I want to help anyone out there to not be taken by these idiots and just try and get on with my life.”
'Murphy' first got in touch with Sharon in May 2020 by sending her two Facebook messages.
She said: “He said he was lonely, he’s serving in Syria, his wife had passed away and he just wanted someone to speak to.
“He said he’d been watching me on Facebook, I don’t know what that means.”
After exchanging a few messages, Sharon gave Murphy her email address and they continued the chat on Google Hangouts.
She said: “Murphy was sweet when I first met him, nothing at all made me think anything different about him.
“He was very interesting when I kept talking to him.
“I felt loved in a way, I felt cared for. I think it’s because he’s an older person, he had an older head.”
At the time Sharon was in a relationship with a man who’d she’d lived with for 29 years, and they had two children together.
She split up with him in August 2020.